Even the use of the very word "empathy" can produce some interesting gut-level reactions.  Some people feel the need to delve deeper; others just snicker. 

Empathy--the ability to sense what other people feel emotionally--is a handy skill, and helpful in many situations.  But it is often misunderstood as well. 

Cris Beam puts a journalists on fact and myth, theory and practice in the book I Feel You: The Surprising Power of Extreme Empathy

Christopher Michel/Wikimedia

Having people pop up from behind the furniture and shout SURPRISE can change your day. 

But it's also possible that getting other kinds of surprises can change your mind, and permanently. 

Southern Oregon University Professor Michael Rousell has been exploring the effects of surprises. 

And he's found evidence that the right kind of surprise can lead people to change their beliefs. 

Raya Sharbain, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Are you ready to be a "kindness warrior?"  Tara Cousineau considers herself one; the rest of the world would probably pigeonhole her as a clinical and research psychologist. 

And she focuses her work on the tremendous benefits of people being nice to one another and showing some compassion. 

She lays out the science and the practices in her book The Kindness Cure: How the Science of Compassion Can Heal Your Heart & Your World


If you had to choose either brains or money, which would you take? 

A recent study shows there may be a distinction to be made between intelligence and wisdom. 

And it's possible that the poorer you are, the wiser you are

Igor Grossman is a social psychologist at the University of Waterloo in Canada. 

Victor Bezrukov, CC BY 2.0,

You've probably heard it said that the central factor in whether a person is pleasant to other people (or not) is empathy. 

But psychology professor Abigail Marsh has been digging even deeper, and has concluded it's a shorter word: fear. 

The response to the fear we recognize in OTHERS is central to empathy, or its lack.  Dr. Marsh expands on what she's learned in The Fear Factor: How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, & Everyone In-Between

Christian LInder/Wikimedia

It's not brain death, but it's not quite like life as we know it, either: being in a vegetative or non-responsive state. 

British-Canadian neuroscientist Adrian Owen has made great efforts to communicate with people in these states. 

And to date, he's found roughly 20% who may still have minds intact, despite brain and/or body damage. 

Owen tells the story of his research in the book Into the Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death

DavidShankbone, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Poor humans.  Such big noses, so little ability to smell. 

Even rats and mice get credit for better senses of smell than we have. 

But that could change with the work of John McGann at Rutgers University. 

The title of his recent publication pretty much hits the nail on the head: "Poor human olfaction is a 19th-century myth." 

© Raimond Spekking, CC BY-SA 4.0,

"Do not go past this point."  How do YOU respond to a sign with that message? 

A lot of us think "maybe it's not SO dangerous..."  And we're often wrong. 

Psychologist Steve Casner shows us HOW often in his book Careful: A User's Guide to Our Injury-Prone Minds

We learn much about why we're wired to ignore danger, and what that gets us. 

Christian LInder/Wikimedia

"Two heads are better than one" seems like a mismatched phrase with "fake news," but there's a common thread. 

And that is the working of the human brain.  We tend to think better in groups than as individuals. 

And that may explain why left to our own devices, we believe in conspiracy theories or lying reporters. 

Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach are the co-authors of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone.

Rod Waddington, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Why does a crowd yelling "surprise" at a birthday party delight one person but make another grumpy?  They're just wired that way, we like to say. 

And we could very well be wrong.  Psychologist and neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett has a different theory: that emotions do not come from specific areas in the brain in all people, but from all over the brain, depending on an individual's experiences and thinking. 

Barrett lays out the theory in How Emotions Are Made, just now hitting bookstores. 


It was an uneventful trip in the car, but that guy who cut you off and forced you to stomp on the brakes stays with you. 

There's a reason: the human brain's "negativity bias."  It keeps us from getting into danger, but certainly has its drawbacks. 

Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson says it can be avoided; he shows how in his book Hardwiring Happiness

How To Be Your Own Lie Detector

Sep 28, 2016

Just in time for the heart of election season, A Field Guide to Lies

Daniel Levitin joined us less than a year ago to talk about his previous book, The Organized Mind.  He's back with advice on how to look at the way people use facts and figures, and pierce through the inconsistencies and outright untruths. 

Just think about it: the Internet gives us access to so much information... so much of it wrong. 

Standing Up For Compassion

Sep 27, 2016

What's your definition of compassion?  And can you even put it into words? 

David Breaux has been asking people to do just that for YEARS now.  He stands on a street corner in Davis, asking people to write their thoughts on compassion in a notebook he holds. 

By now, he's filled several, because the best of them are contained in a book he self-published. 

He and book are on tour, and David Breaux visits Ashland on that tour. 

How To Gain Power By Being Nice

May 26, 2016
Penguin Books

When psychologist Dacher Keltner first began studying power, he thought he'd focus on politics, battlefields, and Wall Street.  But he quickly discovered that people use power in many situations, even with loved ones. 

He also found that taking care of OTHER people's needs can enhance power, quite the opposite of what many people might think.  The wielding of power through compassion is one of the themes of Keltner's book The Power Paradox. 

Things You DO NOT Want To Inherit

May 23, 2016
Viking Press

Maybe your parents didn't get along so well.  Maybe, once you got older and noticed, your grandparents had very similar issues. 

We can't choose the families we're born into, but we can take note of what existed before we came along. 

Mark Wolynn, creator of the Family Constellation Institute, writes of "inherited family trauma" in his book It Didn't Start With You

Finding And Using Your True "Grit"

May 19, 2016
Scribner/Simon & Schuster

We know so much about the brain, and nerves, and neurotransmitters... but... there's still no set of directions on how best to think and use our lives and gifts.  So we resort to terms like "grit." 

Which is the term psychologist Angela Duckworth chooses to use for the combination of passion and persistence that often yields good results. 

So her book is called Grit as well. 

Perception From Picasso (And Others)

May 12, 2016
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Close your eyes for a moment and try to visualize what's in the area around you.  Can you?  We tend to run on autopilot, not taking much note of familiar surroundings. 

But attention to detail is critical at times, and Amy Herman teaches a course called "The Art of Perception."  Art?  Yes, students look at works of art to learn how to fine-tune their visual perception. 

Amy Herman put it into book form in Visual Intelligence

Humans Re-Assess Animal Thinking

May 5, 2016
W.W. Norton Books

Does the cat actually judge you when you trip on your bathrobe belt?  We can't rule it out. 

Science knows a lot more about animal thinking these days, enough to know that we may not rank above animals so much as next to them--think evolutionary bush, not ladder. 

Biologist Frans de Waal studies primates and other creatures in his work, and he wrote the book Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are?  He provides many examples of animals using their brains well. 

Inside OHSU's Vollum Institute

Apr 29, 2016

  Science is working hard to understand the causes of mental illness, but we're not far removed--if at all--from dismissals like "he's just acting crazy."  

 The language is elevated a bit above that at the Vollum Institute at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.  Researchers there work to decode the way the brain works, in physical as well as mental health.  

Knowing More + Understanding Less = Internet

Apr 27, 2016
W.W. Norton Books

  Can you even remember the last time you opened a physical dictionary or encyclopedia? 

You don't have to anymore, with the ability to type any term into Google and get results in less than a second--and no paper cuts. 

So the facts are there for us... now there's the issue of CONTEXT.  In The Internet of Us, author Michael Lynch points to evidence that shows we may know more, but we don't understand more. 

In fact, we seem to understand less.